Updated 15 November 2019

When ads entice you to eat

Advertising, appetite stimulating cues and psycho-social expectations are all external psychological factors that can play a role in obesity.

Advertising, appetite stimulating cues and psycho-social expectations are more external psychological factors that can play a role in obesity.


While we are inclined to think that advertising concentrates mainly on encouraging us to be slim and beautiful and to use a vast variety of slimming aids, we tend to forget the other side of the coin.

Page through any popular magazine or keep an eye on your TV, and you will notice that for every ad that promotes slimming, there is an ad that tells you to eat forbidden, fat-rich foods.

Advertisers use subtle connotations to seduce the public to buy all kinds of foods that are laden with fat and kilojoules. Think of the tempting illustrations of cakes, ice cream, chocolates, chips, sausages, etc, etc. that flash onto our TV screens at strategic moments.

Seeing an ad for chocolates in the late afternoon when your blood sugar levels are at an all time low and your are tired and frustrated, will make you head straight for the cupboard to munch your favourite chocs.

The only weapon we have against this sort of influence, is to be aware of what the advertisers are trying to do: Sell their products and break down your resistance to foods that are going to pile on the kgs.

If you can view these ads objectively and resist their seductive messages, then you will be able to stick to your diet and achieve weight loss. Always remember what you have set out to do and don’t let the subtle influences of advertising undermine your resolve.

Appetite simulating cues

We are all susceptible to psychological cues in the environment which prompt eating.

Certain smells, images, tastes and even times of day, automatically turn on our appetites and make us want to eat. While it is normal to want to eat in the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening, most overweight individuals have disturbed reactions to the external psychological cues that stimulate the desire to eat.

In people who cannot control their food intake and want to eat all day long the appetite regulating mechanism has gone haywire. They can no longer recognise when they are really hungry and can, therefore, also not stop eating when their bodies are actually satiated.

To combat this breakdown in appetite regulation, you need to take control of your life and gradually teach yourself to stop eating when you have ingested a specific amount of food.

Most people who eat mountains of food at each meal are aware of the fact that they are eating too much. If you are eating three slice of bread with a main meal, cut down to two slices for a few days and then reduce your bread intake to one slice and eventually to none.

Then tackle the next item you eat in excess. Let’s say you eat half a chicken, then cut down to a quarter chicken and eventually to about 90 g of chicken (weigh your portions to see how much you eat and how you can cut down). It can be done, but you are the only one who can reduce the amount of food you eat and teach yourself to eat normal quantities.

If you are totally stuck, then consult a dietician or a clinical psychologist or join an organisation like Weight Watchers or Weighless, to help you develop portion control and a normal appetite.

Psycho-social expectations

In South Africa, many of our people are still influenced by psycho-social expectations that being fat is a sign of health and wealth. There is an entrenched perception in many cultures that obesity is beautiful and signifies prosperity.

In the past, most people were faced by alternating periods of deprivation and plenty. Droughts and crop failures caused famine and those individuals who had managed to build up some stores of fat, usually survived food shortages, while thin people succumbed to starvation. Hence the perception that fat is desirable.

This is a difficult perception to change and it may be an underlying reason why obesity is so prevalent in black women in Africa and the USA.

If you are overweight or obese, and your culture still regards fat as beautiful, then you need to take a well informed decision that you, as an individual, are going to break with this aspect of your tradition and are going to make an effort to lose that weight. It may be difficult, but in the long run you will be doing your health a power of good. – (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc)

(Pic: iStock)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

Read more:

Destructive images of beauty
7 surprising diet myths
The psychology of food cravings


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